From my perspective as a consultant speaking to customers about DITA in
non tech doc areas there is a common theme of not wanting to push knowledge of
XML onto users at all.
It's easy for us to suggest that DITA will solve all sorts of problems,
but when it comes down to it, the practicalities of doing so are always a lot
A big challenge to start with is convincing an organisation that XML is
the way to go. Without the tools and infrastructure in place there's always
going to be a difficult road ahead. For wider corporate use there are
challenges from IT departments to accept such changes unless they already fit
into an existing IT system - quite often based on Microsoft
Tech docs teams have generally been a little easier to provide solutions
for as their requirements have previously fallen outside of any corporate
systems and are for only a smaller closed group of users. This is becoming
less the case now.
Overcoming these challenge means that solutions need to be provided that
will address the different types of user's needs - considering their user
personas if you like.
The work of the BusDocs sub committee is taking a step towards this, and
that is likely to introduce more types of content that meet specific needs of
different areas in the business. This is very useful work but when it comes
down to it, it still ends up being about the tools that are used and the
education that is required to adopt them.
For me, for DITA to become successful outside of tech pubs, the focus
needs to be on tool vendors taking away the need to know anything about XML
and using DITA as the hidden enabler of a content architecture. This brings
about the need for DITA-aware tools where XML is never seen - of course there
are some of these already (for example Quark XML Author springs to
For many users, features such as conref, keyref, constraints, reltables
are too technical for them - these need to described in a context that is
appropriate to them and their particular use case, or not described at all as
it doesn't actually matter. As a vendor, architect or system integrator they
are, again, the enabler - just like a programming language is an enabler to
providing a software solution to a customer.
These user friendly descriptions are what the DITA Adoption committee can
help with, along with their work on defining benefits of DITA for different
My concern is that as DITA grows, and it will only continue to grow, it
becomes such a complex standard that it will gain a reputation as being as
such and perceived as an expensive thing to implement. This is, of course,
completely the opposite to the original reason for recommending DITA as an
option to tech pubs team, as vendors were able to quickly support and
therefore provide a more cost effective solution with, quite often, easily
identifiable return on investment.
As the DITA standard grows so to are the requirements for vendors to
support it, making XML authoring tools and other systems do more than they
were originally intended to do. I am not a tool vendor but I can imagine that
implementing the new con ref and key ref features (for example) aren't that
straight forward. I just hope that there is still the interoperability between
tools now that DITA is not just about parsing XML but also has requires a
complex application layer on top of it to implement its features.
Personally, I would like to see an open source DITA interop framework
that allows tool vendors to use a common library that implements features in
the standard. This can then be integrated into tools in a consistent manner.
As the standard grows, this framework would provide the processing logic for
DITA's features. It's partly there in the DITA Open Toolkit already ... Which
is developed hand in hand with the standard itself.
A long-winded response but I hope provides some useful discussion
Sent from my iPad
Are we entirely clear about the use contexts
in which users find the number of elements onerous or confusing? Obviously, the authoring environment is
one. But do architects also object? Do the tools vendors object? This
seems less likely to me, but it's not something to guess, we should find
out. And is that (the number of
elements) the only complexity that they object
constraints mechanism can neatly address the perceived complexity in the
authoring environment. (Be it noted that
existing mechanisms provided by [some?] authoring tools to hide elements
from authors apparently do not reduce these complaints, maybe because the
complaints come from users who don't make use of them.) But creating and
managing constraints is another layer for architects and designers to deal